Though he was not a hymn writer himself, evangelist Dwight Lymon Moody promoted the writing of hymns by others, including his music director Ira Sankey, James McGranahan, Philip Bliss, and more. He not only gave them personal encouragement and exhortations to pursue this ministry, he also increased the awareness of their music by using it in his meetings. (This also occurred through the later evangelistic campaigns of Billy Sunday and Billy Graham.)
As to its technicalities, Moody was notoriously ignorant of music. In one of his meetings, the choir was presenting a number in which the first few lines were sung by the men, in unison. “What’s wrong?” Moody whispered, “don’t the girls know the song?” But his lack of understanding of the theoretical aspect of music was more than made up for by his sensitivity to the kind of ministry great hymns and gospel songs could have.
The song The Ninety and Nine was first presented in one of Moody’s evangelistic meetings in Scotland. His music director Ira Sankey had clipped the poem by Elizabeth Clephane from the newspaper and tucked it in his pocket, thinking he might be able to make use of it some time.
Later that same day, Dwight Moody preached a sermon on Christ as the Good Shepherd, basing his thoughts on the parable in Lk. 15:3-7. As he finished, he turned to Sankey and asked if he could sing something appropriate to close the service. Sensing the prompting of the Lord, Ira Sankey took the clipping from his pocket, sat it on the organ (the small reed organ pictured here), and improvised a tune on the spot–the tune it has to this day! At the end of the song, many expressed a desire to trust in Christ for salvation. You can hear the Gaither group’s version of this song on YouTube.
But that is not the only remarkable incident connected with the song. Back in America once again, the team was invited to hold services in a little New England village church. But when it became clear that the numbers were too great for the small sanctuary, the meeting was moved outside. The steps of the church were used as a platform, and the crowd gathered around. Mr. Sankey sat at the reed organ, with his back to the church door.
At one point in the service, Moody asked his friend to sing The Ninety and Nine. He did so, with the wall of the building forming a natural sounding board for his powerful voice. Two miles away, across the Connecticut River, a man was sitting on his doorstep, enjoying the beauty of the still summer evening. But his revere was interrupted by the words of Sankey’s penetrating gospel message, clearly heard. The Spirit of God convicted him, and he realized he himself was a lost sheep. The man subsequently put his faith in Christ, and became a faithful member of the church across the river.
And all through the mountains, thunder riven
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry to the gate of heaven,
“Rejoice! I have found My sheep!”
And the angels echoed around the throne,
“Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!
Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!”
Moody also made frequent use of Will Thompson’s hymn of invitation, Softly and Tenderly. And on his deathbed, he asked to see Thompson. Taking his visitor’s hand, Moody said, “Will, I would rather have written ‘Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling’ than anything I have been able to do in my whole life.”
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!
Finally, Moody and Sankey took Fanny Crosby’s great gospel song To God Be the Glory to the British Isles and it became popular there, even though it remained virtually unknown in America. (To learn more of how it traveled back to the country of its origin again, see Today in 1847.)
To God be the glory, great things He has done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He has done.